Kerry calls for timely election in meeting with Congo's Kabila

Congo President Joseph Kabila signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the need for timely and credible elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a recent meeting with President Joseph Kabila, the State Department said on Monday amid concerns by opposition groups that Kabila may be seeking to delay elections.

Kerry and Kabila held talks on the sidelines of the signing of a global climate pact at the United Nations on Friday.

Congolese opposition groups have accused Kabila, who won disputed elections in 2006 and 2011, of maneuvering to stand for a third term, which is barred by the constitution. Kabila has not commented on his future.

“The Secretary did emphasize that the U.S. stands ready to be a partner to all of those who are committed to timely, credible elections as called for by the DRC’s constitution,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing.

The Congolese government has suggested that logistical and budgetary constraints could force it to postpone the poll, a move some of Kabila’s opponents say is a deliberate tactic by the president to cling to power.

“The Secretary stressed that a peaceful transition in the DRC will allow President Kabila to cement his legacy,” Kirby added.

During their meeting, Kerry also emphasized that citizens should be allowed to speak freely without intimidation.

Police, using tear gas, dispersed hundreds of anti-government protesters in southeastern DRC on April 20. Since then authorities have arrested dozens of critics of Kabila in what the U.N. and human rights groups said were trumped up charges.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Alan Crosby